By Roger Valdez
I discovered The Kills in a hipster sushi bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill during the late pandemic. Maybe I heard the guitars on their sound system and with a Soundhound search I found them. That night, however, I was changed. I even tried, drunkenly, and without success to order a The Kills t-shirt. My discovery was lost on my fellows at the bar, but I’m still amazed that The Kills are not more widely known and appreciated. I would suggest that you download and listen to the entirety of Midnight Boom.
I’m only going to tackle one song in this review, Black Balloon.
It begins with clapping and then a bass, and then Alison Mosshart’s vocals.
Elevator straight into my skull
The escalator rises as it falls
I swear our chant is crashing in my mind
You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time
The song is about a relationship. Maybe it is with a person or a substance or a memory or something else. But the rational but contradictory notion that an escalator “rises as it falls” captures most of what bad romantic relationships feel like. And like any good bad relationship, the tension builds in the song.
Who is the black balloon being let go? Obviously, this is about a release. The Kills work this tension and dynamic with great economy throughout, with a growing sense of urgency and some nice percussion. The lyrics, “the weather had its way with you,” is a little sardonic nudge to the one being released.
Somewhere there, we hear a single note on a piano played repeatedly. This little bird chirping in this otherwise dark landscape tells us there is hope. Then we hear the sound of the balloon rising up in the air, bouncing perhaps against buildings, and then having the weather have its way with it.
Saying goodbye to a bad relationship is painful but also a relief. The Kills capture the darkness and the hope of that moment when we let go of that black balloon. Maybe it is a sense of hopelessness we harbor. Maybe it is a poisonous person. Maybe it is an inhibition. The black balloon is whatever that thing is that keeps you down, makes you wonder whether you should get out of bed.
This album is beautifully constructed with music and lyrics that rival anything from the era.
Black Balloon is a hymn of possibility and redemption. In a sense, one cannot let go unless we have some hope for that thing we let go of. It’s odd, but The Kills capture that sense of compassion for both the balloon and the one holding it.
The album is as good as this one song. But every song is brilliant. Alphabet Pony, for example, is going to make you happy and the lyrics seem to indict the three-letter acronym obsession.
Phony monkey toy money lose end soda hands
Pink plastic Jesus on the dashboard
Just say it.
Or not. Whatever. It is a great album. I would download it now.